Gallup coach Todd McBroom said it best about tonight’s 4A girls championship game.
“The place to be at 7 o’clock,” he said.
McBroom was referring to the must-see event between his squad and archrival Kirtland Central as the tournament’s top two seeds will play for a fifth time this season at the famed UNM Pit Friday night.
“I think it’s the matchup that everyone wants to see,” McBroom said, following his team’s 68-49 win over No. 4 St. Pius X.
“It’s the matchup that I thought it’s gonna happen the past two seasons,” he said. “When we won it, I thought it was going to be us and Kirtland. Last year I thought it was gonna be us and Kirtland, and I guess year three is the charm there.”
On Thursday, both clubs posted double-digit wins in its semifinals. Top seed Kirtland Central was the first to punch its ticket behind a pair of spurts in the second and fourth quarters as they outlasted No. 4 Hope Christian 53-35 in the first game at 8 a.m. on Thursday.
The defending state champ is seeking its 21st state title, having been a regular in the state finals as KC has made the title game for the fourth time in five years.
“It’s good, but like I just told the girls, we didn’t come to play; we came to win,” KC coach Devon Manning said. “Regardless of who we play, it’s going to be a tough battle.
“We’re excited, don’t get us wrong,” he said. “We’re excited to be there because we could be on the other end of it, but we didn’t come to play in the state championship; we came to win it.
“We got to play our best game (today) to do it,” he added.
KC started slow on Thursday, trailing the Hope Christian Lady Huskies 10-6 in the opening quarter. The Albuquerque private school got eight first-quarter points from 6-foot senior post Kathleen Obisike.
“We were adjusting to their bigs a little bit,” Manning said of the slow start. “Our guards had to get into a flow a little bit of how their guards play, so it just seemed like a more feeling out process for both teams.
KC junior guard Emilia Clani found her flow, scoring eight of her 12 points in the second as the Broncos led 23-10 at the half.
The Huskies did get within two at the start of the third on a putback by Obisike.
Nonetheless, KC stayed the course, leading 32-27 at the end of the third.
The Broncos used a 12-2 run at the start of the fourth to put the game out of reach as the defensive pressure created havoc for the Huskies.
Manning said the game plan was to wear Hope Christian down, and when they made baskets, they could apply pressure on the defensive end.
“We made some defensive adjustments with our presses,” the KC coach said. “I think we caught them off guard going man-to-man a little bit, so the game plan was to try to get to their legs, and I think we wore them down.”
Senior post Aryanna Lansing led KC with 13 points, while Teghan Begay and Clani added a dozen each.
For Hope, senior guard Charlotte Bitsoih had a game-high 15 points, while Obisike finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds. The Hope post scored eight in the opening quarter and
“She’s a good post; I give credit to her,” Lansing said of Obisike. “She gave us a little struggle. We really needed to box out. And I think we started doing that like later on, but I think she’s pretty good.”
After holding a 15-11 first-quarter lead, the Lady Bengals assembled a productive quarter to take command of its semifinal match against the Lady Sartans.
Gallup outscored St. Pius 24 to 13 for a 39-24 halftime cushion.
“I think part of it is they only play seven kids, really six, so minutes add up over the year,” McBroom said. “I think that kind of catches up to them to where we rotate a lot of bodies, and we wear people out.”
The Gallup coach cited St. Pius playing a grinding game with Los Alamos on Tuesday as the Lady Sartans advanced to play the Bengals with a 40-36 win.
“She played kids a lot of minutes,” McBroom said of St. Pius coach Bree Rode. “I think that stuff adds up, and that is kind of where us and Kirtland kind of separate ourselves from everybody. It’s because we play a lot of kids and put pressure, and that separates us.”
Senior guard Kierea Livingston led Gallup with 13 points, while Delia Tello and Daliyah Morris added 11.
Livingston said she’s looking forward to playing KC for a fifth time this season.
“I think we’re ready,” she said. “I think we could do it. We just need to do what we’ve done in the past two games.”
McBroom said the difference in tonight’s title game would come down to the little things.
“There is no secrets between the two teams,” he said. “It’s going to come down to the little things, who’s gonna get those 50/50 balls, who’s going to finish the easy ones when they get them and execute on those types of things.
“As far as knowing each other, they know what we’re going to do, and we know what they’re going to do, so it’s less more about game planning because neither one of us is changing overnight,” the Gallup coach said. “It’s about the kids stepping up on the court and who’s going to go get it done.